The need for space
I am writing this from the School of Ancient Wisdom where I have come with the Parikrma leadership team for a strategy meeting to plan out the new academic year and to just breathe a little oxygen. In the hectic pace that each one of us get immersed in when the schools begin, with emergencies happening nearly everyday in our students’ homes, sometimes we forget to take – deep breaths. It is when you come to places like this where there is so much of green space, where there is a sense of calm, that you begin to realize how important space and design is for learning. The students of Parikrma come from 100 sq.ft. cramped spaces they call homes for at least five people, sometimes with a plastic cover for a roof and many a times with no doors. Keeping that in mind we have tried to create colourful schools for our children. A school that they feel proud of and a space that is clean, calm and happy – everything that their homes are not. And yet because we provide everything free and our only way of survival is the through the generosity of benefactors, we have had to make do with whatever space we get. Our school in Koramangla was a bakery when we first rented it. When we moved in for the first time, we had to spend weeks trying to get rid of the rodents that had made the building their home. It has great space constraints and has no playgrounds that all schools must have. Our children have to walk with the PE teachers to a neighbouring ground for their PE lessons. We don’t have an art room and use the terrace for it. And with the growing classrooms even this terrace is being eaten away. We had to compensate for such deficiencies with a fantastic mural that the children have done on the façade of the building. The classrooms are colourful and bright with evidence of a lot of activities. And yet every day I wish I could have given our students a little more space. I think the psychological space is impacted by the physical space. Because our children come from cramped homes they need space in the school to run around freely and release their pent up energy. Our teachers need to be extra patient and understand children’s background when the noise level in our classrooms goes up by a few decibels. Sometimes, the actual learning begins after many minutes because our children take some time to quieten down. We have to use many techniques to get them to calm down and start working. If we had a large classroom or a long corridor our children would surely be more focused and get started quickly. And it would be a dream come true to have even a small playground. The lack of all this does stress out our teachers – and of course, the compassion and skills you require to teach first generation learners is never taught in a BEd course. So, I had to bring out my Head teachers out to a faraway place just to breathe some oxygen and go back rejuvenated. It is our dream that one day we will not have to hire a modest resort but have a retreat of our own where we can go to recharge our batteries. And it would be great if we could have a place where we can take our students to calm down and think quietly and find expression for all their creativity. Till then, we continue to do the best we can. We are really happy that we have at least what we have.
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